2020 marked the 150th anniversary of the wreck and rescue of USS Saginaw.
USS Saginaw launched in 1859 and saw service in various locations in the Pacific including China, Japan, Mexico, Central America, and Alaska before its famous fate.
In October 1870 Saginaw completed a dredging operation at Midway Atoll. Intending to look for shipwrecked sailors on Kure Atoll, Saginaw instead struck a reef there and the ship grounded and was broken apart by the surf. Luckily, the crew was able to offload the gear and provisions onto the atoll before the ship was destroyed.
On 18 November, after three weeks on Kure Atoll, five men set out to reach Honolulu, nearly 1,400 miles away, in a small gig boat to save their crewmates. After one month, breakers capsized the boat near Kauai and only one man survived. He made it to Kauai where the captain of the schooner Wainona took him to Honolulu and then the US Consulate, on 24 December 1870. The Consulate sent a sailing coaster Kona Packet and the King of Hawaii sent a steamer, Kilauea, on rescue missions. They reached Kure Atoll nine days later, on 4 and 5 January, respectively, and rescued the crew. After a brief stop on Midway Island to recoal, the two ships sailed back to Honolulu, arriving 14 January.
The Saginaw's gig boat survived being capsized in the breakers, and is part of the collection at the Castle Museum of Saginaw County in Saginaw, Michigan. The wreckage of USS Saginaw is under the jurisdiction of Naval History and Heritage Command.
The Museum has several items from this fateful voyage on display on the first deck.
The Deck Log-Book Saginaw, 1870. Kept Saturday October 15th 1870 through January 31, 1871, the entire length of the mission, the shipwreck, and the rescue.
The boathook and sextant from USS Saginaw. The sextant was used on the gig’s voyage, it was repaired from pieces of Saginaw (including steam gauges, a shaving mirror, and zinc strips from inside fixtures) after it grounded. It was the gig’s only means of navigation.
A model of the gig boat used by some of the crew to sail to Hawaii
The gig ensign from USS Saginaw